Thursday, January 29, 2009

Whip those WIPS into Shape

What is a WIP? It's a "work in progress."

Who doesn't have at least a couple WIPS laying around? Or a couple dozen in some cases.

Whether they are unfinished craft projects or unfinished household projects, those WIPS lead to a lot of mental clutter. They create a lot of guilty feelings ("I really should finish THAT before I start THIS") and they take a lot of effort trying to keep track of them and store them.

The truth is that very often, we are over them and will never finish them. They are just sitting there mocking us.

Hobbies are a great example of that. Most people who are engaged in hobbies have moved from one to another over a period of time.

For example, I used to do a lot of counted cross stitch. But let's be real - my post transplant, over 40 eyes just don't let me enjoy it that much anymore. Why cling to those unfinished projects? I would never finish them. Beyond being physically unable to finish them, I simply wasn't interested anymore. Once I really admitted that to myself, it was easy to let those projects go. The usable patterns and supplies were either sold at a garage sale, donated, or passed on to friends.

Now is the time to pull out all those WIPS and be honest with yourself. Look at each one and ask yourself if, given a completely free, no obligation weekend, would you work on completing it? If the answer is no, then give it up without guilt. You've simply moved beyond it.

Sometimes, it might be just one or two items in a favorite hobby that has lost your interest. Let them go. Life is too short to create something that isn't pleasurable.

Sometimes it's an entire hobby that no longer holds your interest. It can be discouraging when you think about the time you spent to learn it or the money you have spent in supplies, but the reality is that that time can never be recovered and the money is already spent. Admit to yourself that you are no longer interested in quilting, macrame, or fly tieing and pass that stuff on to someone who is still interested in it and can actually make use of those things rather than just storing them.

I'm going to go through my own WIPS and reevaluate them. For those that I choose to continue on with, I am going to place them in my planner and actually schedule time to work on them.

I challenge you to only keep the hobbies and projects in your life that you truly enjoy. Even more, I challenge you to organize your WIPS and plan their completion.

If You Think Dog Hair is Hard to Keep Up With

You ought to try living in a house where every room is practically being gutted and/or remodeled.

This is what my kitchen looked like about a month ago when Vern (and our ever helpful friend Jesse) installed the canned lighting. (That's insulation from the attic for the uninitiated who have never remodeled.)

Made me wish for no lights so that I didn't have to see that mess.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Foyer - Marking This One Done.

Yeah, not much of an improvement. The foyer still says that we are under construction and that the floors, walls, and ceiling are unfinished. I can't really do much about that until it actually IS time to finish that part of the room. But what it now also says is that I've chosen a color (and trim color) for the wall, the buffet is set up for guests to place their purse or keys, and the clutter is put away. (I promised I would keep this real, and "under construction" is the reality here, so I'm working with what I've got.)

In fact, our eventual plan for this area is to have something like this instead of the buffet.
What I did to get closer to this goal is only utilize the buffet for items that will eventually go in this area. My handknits are neatly folded in the drawers of the buffet because I will eventually store them in the bench. I found a new home for all of the manuals and computer gear that we previously stored in the buffet because it will eventually need a new home anyway.

So, while it's not final, it is functional and headed in that direction. I'm considering this one "case closed."

Coming up - clearing away some emotional clutter. . .

Organized Clutter

One trap that I think a lot of people fall into is the mindset that if their stuff is "organized" then it is not clutter.

The junk drawer in my foyer buffet is a really good example of that.

Several years ago a good friend (who knows how I like to organize) gave me this handy dandy "junk drawer" organizer for my birthday. Over the years, it has accumulated quite a tidy little pile of "junk." Tidy. But junk nonetheless.

What I found when I really took the time to sort through it was the following:

  • Five pencil sharpeners, including one I purchased just last week because I couldn't find the other ones.
  • Two printer cartridges. For a printer we don't use anymore. (I'm still trying to convince Vern that the printer needs to go if we aren't using it anymore. He's determined to save it for some sort of printer emergency where our printer fails in the middle of the night and we aren't able to purchase a new printer at the 24 hour Wal-Mart. The cartridges, by the way, expired in 2006.)
  • Matchbooks and boxed matches. We don't smoke and we always use those long neck lighters.
  • A dried up glue stick. It probably dates back to when Ashley was in grade school.
  • Two flashlights that aren't bright enough to guide us to anywhere in an emergency unless it only took 10 seconds to get there.
  • Playing cards, which seems like a good idea except that we have about 15 more decks in our guest room. Not to mention, we don't allow anyone to play anything but Uno at our house. (just kidding)
  • A single die (dice? die?)
  • A lone button for heaven only knows what.
  • A part for a Spirograph game that I haven't seen for years, but I know I will find the minute I throw it away.
  • Bobby pins. I don't even know why I have bobby pins. I've never used them in my entire life.
  • Three tiny sewing kits. I have an entire room devoted to sewing. Do I really need to have three useless sewing kits in my junk drawer?
That just scratches the surface of the "organized clutter" that I found in that drawer.

So take a good look around, even at the stuff that appears to be organized and ask yourself if you really need it.

Now, someone must have a use for a single coaster, a folding lint brush that isn't sticky anymore, and a bunch of rotted rubber bands, right?

Answering a Few Comments

Jean said:

What I would like my foyer to say is, "go away, we're not home" but what it actually says is "we have dogs who shed like the beasts they are and we are too lazy to consistently vaccuum it up."

Boy do I understand that. The "go away" part and the dog part. So in your honor, I present. . .

I was even all serious about this - I printed it on cardstock and LAMINATED it. Now that's serious.

I usually keep a crappy hand written sign on my door so that people don't disturb Vern while he's sleeping, but I decided it was time to class up the joint a little. Besides, it will drive our neighbor nuts because she won't know what the "new" sign says and will have to find a reason to come over and read it.

Truth is, I keep this on my door most of the time. I don't do drop ins.


What about the things you don't want to keep, but feel guilty for tossing or donating for odd reasons? That's my problem!

Those things fall into that sentimental clutter category, especially the part about guilty sentimental value. Believe me when I say that the guilt that you feel getting rid of them is a brief and fleeting thing. The guilt that you feel every time you look at them and think about how you really don't want them is continuous until the items are gone. Pass them on and be done with the guilt. It's like ripping off a band aid.

Jean also said

But what do you do with the clutter that is not useful in any way at all, but your husband refuses to get rid of. My husband is a huge packrat. Huge. Don't get me started on the condition of my garage which stores all of my late FIL's stuff. (He was also a packrat.)

I'm going to assume you aren't ready to trade him in for a new model, so you'll have to work with what you've got!. Getting a spouse or partner on board can be hard sometimes so until you do, the best you can usually do is try to contain their stuff into certain areas so that it doesn't clutter up the rest of the house. Maybe once he sees the changes that you make through the house, he'll fall in line. It also sounds like the father-in-law's items could fall in that "sentimental" category and he's afraid to or unsure of how to part with it.

Thanks for the great comments, feedback, and questions!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Holy Cow Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

I shouldn't give away what is destined to become my "secret family recipe" cake that I serve to all guests from now until eternity. I also shouldn't spill the beans that this cake is not only low fat, but also really Weight Watchers friendly.

But you are catching me in a moment of luscious lemon poppy seed stupor, so I'm going to do it anyway.

Carla's Holy Cow Lemon Poppy Seed Cake


  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup fat free sour cream
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup low fat vanilla yogurt (I think Dannon is the best)
  • 1 cup Egg Beaters or egg substitute
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Throw it all together and mix for 3-4 minutes.

Pour into a bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Remove from oven when a toothpick inserted in center comes clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then top with Holy Cow Lemon Glaze.

Holy Cow Lemon Glaze

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cut into 12 servings - each serving is 3 WW points, 130 calories, and 2 grams of fat.

(You can also make these into mini-muffins - it makes about 90 mini muffins; bake about 12-15 minutes; each one is less than 18 calories!!)

And pure bliss.

Oh, why is it called "Holy Cow Lemon Poppy Seed Cake?"

Because "holy cow" is what Vern said when he took the first bite.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Get Out and Stay Out

Now that the hard part of figuring out what you want to keep is done, we can move on to getting the rest of that clutter out of the house.

There are several ways to do that. The most obvious are the things that are truly trash - the instruction book for the blender you don't own anymore, the broken crayons, the newspaper clipping for the cabbage diet. You know the stuff. Into the trash it goes and don't even look back.

However, there's always that stuff that still has some useful life to it. Just not useful in YOUR life. There are several ways to deal with those things.

The first one that a lot of people think of is to have a garage sale. No one is a bigger fan of garage sales than me. I love to go to them, and I've had my fair share of very successful sales. However, the garage sale we had last fall nearly killed me. I'm not convinced that they are the best way to get rid of stuff, but if you want to pack away your unwanted stuff for a garage sale, then go for it.

Another way to get rid of unwanted stuff is to list it for sale in your local newspaper or Craigslist. I've had really good luck selling things on Craigslist, but a lot depends on how large of an area you live in. We live pretty rurally, but I seem to get a lot of takers from the Chicago area. We even sold our camper on Craigslist. Newspaper classifieds are usually pretty inexpensive or even free too, so that's a good way to sell something locally.

You might have family or friends that can make use of the items - call them up and have them come and get them right away. Your old dishes could make your 20 year old niece who is just moving out on her own really happy.

I've been using Freecycle a lot lately. If you aren't familiar with Freecycle, it's basically a way to connect with people in your area through an email list and offer items to give away. You can even ask for items. The rules vary from location to location, but if you have something to give away, it's a great way to go.

Donating to charity is an age old way to pass your items on to others that may find them more useful. Many charities may even come to pick them up. Think outside the box when it comes to charities - churches may have a list of people in need, shelters always need things, children's homes, homes for disabled adults, etc.

If you donate items to charity, make sure you document it well and know exactly what you can use as the correct value to write off. It's actually really surprising how much you can write off for household items and clothing in good condition. Much more than you can make from a garage sale. You can download a free copy of 2007 Deduction Pro here. I've been using it for my deductions and it couldn't be easier.

When I donate items, I take a photo of the items to be donated and save them to my hard drive with the place donated and the date. That way, if I am audited, I not only have the itemized list from Deduction Pro and the receipt, but I also have photos to document the donation and the condition of the items.

The most important rule of getting items out of your house is that they must go immediately. Put those garage sale items in a box and put them in the garage, attic or basement and plan a date on your calendar NOW for that garage sale. If they are going to charity, put them in your car to take them the next time you go out or call the charity and schedule a pick up right away. If you are selling the items or giving them away, list them right away so that you aren't tempted to keep them.

Now go kick that stuff to the curb and feel the weight lifted from your shoulders!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Since my last post was at least a thousand words, I thought I would just post a few photos for inspiration while you decide what you want your foyer to say about you.

These all seem pretty easy to achieve without a lot of expense, yet they are bright, clean, and welcoming.

Wouldn't you just get a good feeling walking into any of these homes?

It's a Keeper!

Since we're just starting with cleaning and organizing, it's a good time to talk about what we are going to do with all that "stuff." These are rules that you should use anytime you are working on cleaning or organizing an area, so I'll refer to them often.

"Stuff" falls into only two categories:

1. Stuff I want to keep.

2. Stuff I don't want to keep.

See how easy that is?

You either want to keep it or you don't want to keep it. It's really that simple.

Today I'm going to deal with the stuff you want to keep. Or at least the stuff you think you want to keep. You may change your mind by the end of this post!!

Pick up every single item in the area where you are working and ask yourself "Is this something I want to keep or not?"

We keep things for a lot of reasons:

1. It is useful. If an item is useful AND you are using it, then it's easy to make the decision to keep it. If you aren't using it, ask yourself why? Can it be used in that area or another area? If you can't come up with a use for it, maybe it's not as useful as you really think it is.

2. It is valuable. Value is sort of a funn
y thing and means different things to different people. If you are keeping it solely because of the value, then that may not be a good enough reason. Remember, it only has real value if you are using it (useful value) or if you are willing to part with it (financial value.) Sometimes those things that we think have financial value aren't worth as much as we think they are. They may not even deserve a spot in our home.

Do I
need to say the words "Beanie Babies" to anyone at this point?

If it has useful value, then take advantage of that and actually use it.

If it has financial value but not useful value, you may want to investigate the real value of it and cash in on it. It really doesn't hold any financial value until you get the cash out of it.

3. You love the item. That's a great reason to keep an item - and reason enough to not even give it another thought. We all need items we love in our home and if you don't have some in each area, then you may want to think about why. You should be able to look around your home and see photos or other items that you love and make you happy. I prefer to love things that don't require dusting though, but the choice is yours.

4. It has sentimental value. Here's where it gets a little sticky. It is something that belonged to your Great Aunt Gertrude so you say it has emotional value. But does it also fall into the category of being something you love?

Is the sentimental value that you place on something a positive value or a negative value? After my mom died, most of her things were passed on to me. While they all reminded me of my mom, most of them were an emotional burden. I felt like I NEEDED to care for them because they were hers. They weren't things that I really loved or that had I had any emotional attachment to other than the fact that they had once belonged to her. Once I separated those feelings out and passed those items on to someone else, I can't tell you the weight that was lifted off my shoulders. And it hasn't altered my memories of my mom at all. There have been some things that I have kept, but I have kept them because they are pleasing to me, not just because they belonged to my mom.

I should also put in a quick word about things that we keep because we feel they are "keepsakes." They aren't really all that special to you if you are willing to shove them in a box and put them in a musty basement or a dusty attic. If they are truly keepsakes, then you will find a place to honor them in your home.

My personal rule is that we each have one large box of "keepsake" items that we store neatly. Most of those things are childhood or school treasures, so we don't really add to the box much anymore, but we go through it regularly to make sure that those things are still really keepsakes in our heart. At the very least, determine a set amount of storage space that you are willing to devote to those things and stick with it.

Sometimes there are things we would like to preserve or keep but the items take up so much room. Trophies, awards, and school papers all fall into this category. Take pictures of those items and put them in a photo album or even frame them (how great would a photo of all of your trophies artfully arranged look?!) and then ditch the space sucking physical item itself. Kid's art and school papers are definitely fun to look back on and it's hard to decide what to keep and what to get rid of, so scan them in to preserve them. You could even reduce several pieces of artwork onto one piece of paper and just display that. There's just no need to keep the physical items when they take up so much valuable space in your home.

See. I told you it was simple. In order to keep it, you have to use it, love it, and it has to hold some sort of value to you.

Next time I'll deal with the things we don't want to keep . Hopefully, that pile is a little larger after today.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Control - Task 1

My plan isn't to tackle each area all in one post or all in one day. Some days will simply be reflection about what we want an area of our home to say about us. Other tasks might be actual action tasks.

We all have busy lives - this is going to be broken down into very small bites. Most of us have lots of other stuff going on. Some areas are very large. Some require more thought. Some require action that might involve others. There's no deadline on completing any task, nor do you have to complete every task. Play along with what you want and disregard the rest.

On another note, I'm going to share some photos of our house - the good, the bad, and the ugly. And it's pretty ugly in some areas.

As you know if you have read my ramblings at all, we are currently doing a major remodel. Therefore, you are going to see some half done walls, half scraped ceilings, unfinished floors, and old wallboard. It's a work in progress. However, I've decided that I can't wait for it to be finished to make it "perfect," so I'm just going to have to work with what I've got until we are ready to move onto that part of the remodeling projects (sooner rather than later I hope as we want to have it all completed this calendar year).

When you see the pictures and the walls look like crap and the floor is unfinished and there are paint samples all over the wall, try to use your imagination. I promise to post "after" photos when they finally happen and in the meantime, I'll at least share with you what the goal is for the area.

So, let's get started then.

Probably the best start is right at the front door, so let's start with the foyer or the main entrance to your home.

The front entrance is the first glimpse that guests get of your home. Think about what you want it to tell them. You may want them to see that you are vibrant and active. Or maybe you want them to know that you are calm and serene.

Now, what does your entrance REALLY say to your guests?

Let's see what our foyer says about us.

Let's see. The floor is unfinished, as are the walls, and the ceiling. Those are on our "to do" list, so we can pass over those for right now. The floor will eventually be grouted, the walls are going to be a terracotta color, and the ceiling will have white beadboard on it. Can't really push them ahead in the plan, so we'll just have to send out the message that the house is under construction.

But what can I do something about? There are the snow boots that were left there last week when it snowed and I went out to get the mail. Those definitely need to go. We don't usually go through this door, so while I might have a spot for our guests' shoes, ours don't need to be there.

The buffet is a temporary solution using a piece of furniture we already had. Eventually, there will be a coat rack bench and mirror there so that we have a place to hang coats and store winter items. But for now, let's see what the buffet says.
Yeah, that's what I thought. It's shouting nice and loud "I'm a clutter catcher." The dogs obviously aren't wearing their collars - that's a bad thing. The notebooks and folders on top of the buffet were from some computer repairs that we recently made. We pulled out the information for the computers and didn't return them to their rightful home, probably because they don't have a rightful home.

The baskets were initially a nice decorative touch, but they also ended up being a catch-all spot. The large one has a bunch of hand knits in it. Stuff that took me hours and hours to knit. And it's wadded up in a basket at the front door. That's not the message I want to send out to guests or the value that I want to put on my time. I spent a lot of time on that stuff and I should value them a lot more.

Now I know what the foyer says about us. Other than the obvious "house under construction," it says that I'm too busy to make homes for things or to put them back in their right home (the boots and notebooks). It says that I don't value my property (the dogs don't have their Invisible Fence collars on) or my time (the hand knits wadded up in a basket).

What does your entryway say about your family? And what do you want it to say?

Think about it. Look at it with an objective eye (photos are a great way to see what others are seeing.) Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or links to your blogs. I'd love to hear and see what you are doing.

Now we know what we want to say and what we actually are saying. Next up, we'll work on getting there.

This Year Will NOT Kick My Ass

I have a lot of really good hopes for 2009. Of course, I had a lot of good hopes for 2008 too, but the Universe had other plans for us. But that was last year. This is a new year. And I am not going to let 2009 kick my ass.

The year has started out a little rocky. A good friend of ours was seriously injured by electrocution. We canceled our much anticipated January vacation to Phoenix, and just last night, Vern sprained his ankle.

Did I mention that I'm not going to let this year kick my ass?

Therefore, I'm taking control of this year in the only way I know how to.

I'm going to organize it.

In times of stress, some people pray. Some people fall into drugs or alcohol. Some people obsessively exercise or compulsively overeat.

I organize. It's the only way I can gain a little bit of control over uncontrollable situations.

I'm staring a year long organizational project with new ideas and new challenges every few days, weekly at the most. If you want to play along with me and gain a little bit of control over your life or home, follow along with me.

I welcome any suggestions or questions - I can't promise I can fix your problems, but I can help you put them in nice, neat little piles so they are easier to step over.